Falling Stars and Cactus Flowers

by angeliska on August 8, 2020

I don’t know whether I will ever be done writing about my mother. Last year, on this day, I thought I might be close. Close to being at peace, close to saying everything I’ve needed to say about her life, her death, and our brief and yet eternal relationship. Today, it feels endless again, boundless – the grieving, the writing, the call to honor her, to understand who she was to me and others who loved her in a deeper way. Maybe it’s this in-between time out of time that we’re in – the cascade of days marked less by happenings, travels, celebrations, events, or travels (all postponed, delayed, indefinitely canceled) and more by our ancient and eternal calendars – the ones our ancestors used to gauge the current of time: flowers blooming and going to seed, leaves greening, browning, falling, plants and animals growing, and the constant wheeling of celestial bodies overhead. Despite my adherence and attention to this more natural calendar, I still didn’t manage to get out to the country to dark enough night skies to witness the once in a lifetime passage of the comet Neowise, (or any of the spectacular meteor showers we’ve had this summer), but I found myself collecting incredible images capturing its passage across the heavens, fleeting, and yet – falling forever.

It reminds me of the comet birthmark carried by many of the characters in David Mitchell’s novels. That shooting star marked on their flesh somewhere in between the womb and whatever comes before, links the souls of these very different people over many stories, and many lifetimes. They are repeating reincarnations of one another, appearing again and again in different timelines, connected by that shooting star, forever falling. Fleeting. We are human, and the earthly envelopes we come in don’t last long, and usually don’t preserve well. But some part of us is eternal, is remembered, and is carried over to the next life, somehow. I do believe that. We leave little marks – scratchings in the stone that remain for centuries, our dearly-held mementos, our little legacies embroidered in DNA, embodied in our descendants.

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
         Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
         Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
         Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
         Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
         Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
         Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

– BY JOHN KEATS

I’ve seen the brilliant Jane Campion film Bright Star (based on the life and death of John Keats, and his ill-fated relationship with Fanny Brawne) a few times now – and recently recommended it to my dad, hoping we could discuss it after, since I knew he’d love it. He did, of course – and also brought up my mother’s obsession with both John Keats and Hank Williams – two star-crossed troubadours, who romantically, tragically died far before their time, “half in love with easeful death…My dad and I have talked about this connection over the years – trying to understand why this woman we loved came to idolize these two geniuses that torched across the skies in a blaze of glory, only to gutter out prematurely – one in Rome with ruined lungs and mouthful of blood, and the other of morphine and whiskey induced heart failure in the back of a Cadillac in West Virginia on New Year’s Eve.

The woman who cherished
her suffering is dead. I am her descendant.
I love the scar tissue she handed on to me,
but I want to go from here with you
fighting the temptation to make a career of pain.

– Adrienne Rich, from “Twenty-One Love Poems”

When I watched the film the second time, what really hit me was what a fucking raw deal it was for poor Fanny Brawne – who’d found this deep true love with a doomed poet, and then lost him. The depiction of her grief is utterly wrenching, bottomless. I recognized myself in it – the hopeless fury of that immense loss that has ways of completely directing and shaping everything that comes after it – the course of your whole goddamn life. Meanwhile, Keats swans off into romantic immortality – and Hank too, leaving behind his own young bride, Billie Jean. Those two women were left to define themselves outside the shadow of their dazzling lovers’ arcs through life and death – how in the world did they manage it? How do I? Like this, I suppose.

Writing about my mother is one of the few ways I have to know her, to explore my relationship with her – and to know myself, through my loss of her. One of the other ways I get to know her is through the stories people who knew her tell me, about what it was like to know her. It helps me and heartens me to think that even thirty-four years after her death, my mother’s old friends who knew her back then still remember her, still think of her, and still carry these stories about knowing her.

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship lately, particularly during these pandemic times, when most of us cannot be with our friends, can’t hang out, safely go to each other’s houses, or do any of the things together that we all used to take for granted. I really miss snuggling with my friends. I miss dance parties, and crowded concerts, and playing dominoes and drinking cocktails on patios. I miss it all – the physicality of friendship, of love. Sometimes I think that’s why I cling to and treasure earthly objects and mementos the way I do. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, and really didn’t have many friends (like really, only one or two – and sometimes none) until I became a teenager. I learned to be self-sufficient early on, left at daycares and then was a latchkey kid for years.

You could say that my mom’s primary love languages weren’t touch or spending time – so even before she died when I was seven years old, I was already bereft of a lot of the affection and attention children really thrive on. It’s probably no wonder that transitional objects like teddy bears and dolls never managed to transition out of my arms even as I grew up (yes, I still sleep with a stuffed animal!) and that I still save every letter anyone’s ever sent me. The physical objects my mother left to me are as much of her body as I can ever be close to. If I finally learned to play her guitar and fiddle, perhaps I could hold them to my body and it would feel like holding her, or being held? I dreamt once that I got to hug her – but in the dream I was grown, and she was in her twenties, hair in a ponytail, wearing cut-off jean shorts. She was surprisingly small – more delicate than I remembered back when she was the biggest thing in my life, even as she was shrinking away to nothing – cancer eating her life-force, her body that bore me, that fed me, that made me.

There is the experience of knowing my mother when I was a baby, when she was my everything, and for nine months, my world entire – the bubble of her flesh enclosed around me, my first home. I imagine I can see her in my first year of life outside her body – my blurry vision resolving as our faces bumped, my unsteady stem of a neck bonking my head into hers like a top-heavy sunflower. Surely that happened, right? I’ve seen mothers and babies in that posture hundreds of times – so maybe my child self can remember being so near, up close – able to count her every freckle, every gingery eyelash. But now – she’s farther away, somewhere off in the distance, transparent, elusive. I grasp at threads, and and left holding palmfuls of petals and smoke. Sometimes I wake up from dreams where I’m trying to find her, but she’s nowhere. It feels like cactus spines, lodged in the tender meat of my heart – impossible to pull out.

The mystical path is to return to our longing even when the pain of separation is excruciating. This is why longing is in the root of belonging. To be longing for what the soul hungers after, even when that hunger can not be satisfied, is to be truly alive. Paradoxically, it is in our deepest presence with those absences in our lives that we are returned to coherence.

– an excerpt from “Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home” by Toko-pa Turner

I’ve been leafing through my mom’s old scrapbooks again recently, as I often do when her death anniversary approaches. I have three of her glorious painstakingly collaged archives of life in early 1970’s psychedelic-folk era Austin. They are true treasures – time capsules of a lost Austin, replete with concert posters and ticket stubs, scraps of sketches, little paintings and love-notes, handmade valentines and incense wrappers, images of paintings cut from art books and magazines, and page after page of photographs of favorite musicians and old buddies and long dead beloved canine and feline companions interspersed with flowers cut from seed packet envelopes. They tell you so much – about what life was like, about what was important or exciting, what was worth saving, hanging on to, and remembering. I learned the hard way after Hurricane Katrina that a box of random scraps and photos stuffed in an old shoebox rarely survives the passage of time, or gets saved from the rubble. Scrapbooks like the ones my mom made, on the other hand, are rare documents – colorful testimonials to the zeitgeist of the wild and beautiful scene that existed here back then. They tell a coherent story, and preserve the memories of the dead.

This was the heyday of hippies and “heads”, of cool chicks and far-out folks congregating on colorful blankets at love-ins at the park, groovin’ at various shows and hang-outs, pickin’ parties and “red bean busts” in tiny Hyde Park bungalows – goofing off on front porches, smoking weed, listening to records, making art, and getting weird together. I lingered longingly at all the pictures of my mom and her pals hugging and rolling around, sitting smushed sardine-like on ratty sofas rolling joints, singing old country songs. Those were different days – before anyone knew what HIV or COVID-19 even were. Invincible days.

I wonder how many of the people in those faded photographs are still alive, now elders with many stories about living through those strange, heady times. My mother documented their vibrance, their flaming, glowing youth – all flowing long hair and bushy beards and big stoned smiles. She even managed to inscribe each of their zodiac sun sign symbols next to their names. For years, I’ve pored over those pages, and have been so curious about all the people so lovingly preserved within them. I’ve managed to track down a few of them, over the years – with varying degrees of successful warm connection. I’m going to share a few of those, below. I pray that the others I never managed to find, and who are still among the living will stay safe and healthy through this bizarre plague that is keeping us away from one another. I’ve been thinking about how many people will lose (and have already lost) beloved friends and family to the scourge that is this coronavirus. They say that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I cling to the little snippets of casual knowledge about her, gleaned dearly from the people who knew her, who will occasionally drop a story or a reminiscence – a puzzle piece I can add to my forever unfinished portrait of who she was. Sometimes, it feels futile – knowing that I’ll never find all the scattered fragments that make up a whole, with the awareness that the big picture of her and who she was, who she still is, is always changing.

I must have gotten my passion for marbled paper from seeing the pieces of it she’d saved – and I realize over and over how much my sense of beauty and aesthetics was informed by my mother, by what she found to be marvelous and magical. I’ll never know what is nature or nature with us – what was her influence, and what are the ways we are just similar, the things I inherited from her, down to my taste in art and decor. I know that there are gestures I must make, postures that my body holds that retain an unconscious echo of her. It’s strange to think about. A couple of years ago, my Aunt Ruthie told me about my mom’s love of baths. I am also a dedicated bath taker, so it was fascinating to hear that my mother had to have her “soak” every day, no matter what. I like to imagine us communing somehow, in that bathing ritual.

I remember her friend Cathleen telling me that my mother’s favorite gemstone was the Mexican fire opal, (sometimes called a jelly opal) with its flashes of orange and violet, and that her favorite flower was the night blooming cereus. I would never have known that, otherwise. I would have guessed roses, or maybe irises. I knew she loved cactus flowers, and we had some that bloomed pink and fuchsia I remember her always being very proud of, and delighted by – but she never had a cereus (or any fire opals), I don’t think. There were a lot of things that my mother loved and wanted that she never got to have. Not in this life, anyway. Cactus flowers are usually quite ephemeral – even more than hardy wildflowers or garden blossoms. The night-blooming cereus often flowers only briefly, and in secret, under the cover of shadows. You have to be nocturnal to catch it making itself available to its pollinators, mostly moths and bats. I had a vision once where I shapeshifted into one of these outrageously beautiful beings – though I was a San Pedro cactus. It was wild – the sensation of being so extravagantly protected by my own sharp armor, shielding the moist green tenderness of me from the munching mouths of desert dwellers. A top my head, (or perhaps the flower was my head), I expanded my magnificent petals into enormous white lotus-like flower, attracting winged creatures to delicately sip my nectar. This vision made such an impression on me, that I’m turning it into a future Mardi Gras costume, if we ever get to frolic in the streets together ever again, that is… I want to embody that dazzling desert warrior queen – all intoxication, and fierce grit. So tough, and so exquisite.

It makes sense – my mother’s passion for cactus flowers, and that the cereus would be her favorite. Especially considering that she painted them into the two mystical portraits of Hank Williams she did, garlanding his image with their blossoms. The fleeting blooms forever fresh, immortalized along with Hank, framed like a Russian icon. An altar for her favorite country music martyr – the patron saint of lonesome cowboys.


“Hank Williams – Icon” by Maggie Polacheck

I sent a photograph of this painting to a man who knew my mother, briefly. He reached out to me with a memory of her he’d been carrying all these years, and told me he’d be honored for me to share it here:

“Please excuse me for intruding in your life, but I was thinking of your mom, Maggie, this morning. I knew her for a short time back in 1976, and I thought if you were amenable to the idea, that I might share my remembrance of her.

I lived in Austin for about a year and a half back in ’76-’77, or maybe it was ’75-’76, when I was stationed at Bergstrom AFB (now an airport of some kind). I don’t know what Austin was like before that, but I like to imagine that I was there at the pinnacle of its weirdness and that the decline began maybe ten years or so after that. I could see the change when I was there last, about fifteen years ago.

When I lived there, Half Price Books was located in an old ramshackle building on Lavaca near the Capitol, and they had a store cat named Toby, who curled up in a big plastic bowl of free bookmarks. There was this really nice arts & craft/flea market on weekends just off of The Drag, right across the street from the main campus of UT. You could still see classic movies at The Paramount. When the renovation efforts there reached a certain point, the movies stopped and they had ‘events’. Threadgills was still in the old filling station way out on Lamar, and hadn’t yet morphed into the upscale place near Barton Springs that it was the last time I was there. Schlotsky’s was still a funky little hole-in-the-wall on Lamar. And there were so many other places that don’t come to mind right at this moment.

Now, from what I hear and from what little I remember of my last trip there (about fifteen years ago, I think), it seems kind of like the entire city got gentrified. There’s a line in ‘Drifting Way of Life’ by Jerry Jeff Walker – ‘the real estate boom came roaring through my yard.’

And there were meetings of The Friends of Old-Time Music at The Split Rail (unfortunately no longer extant for some years), and fiddle lessons at Heart of Texas Music.

And since I’m here, and one memory triggers another…

There was the time my fiddle teacher invited me over to her house one Saturday. No, nothing like that, but you have to know that I was still young, twenty something, married only a year and a half or so, still pretty shy with women and strangers in general.

I was taking fiddle lessons at Heart of Texas Music from this lady, this girl, just a year or so (I think) older than I was. One day she invited me over to her house in the Hyde Park neighborhood to listen to records. At the time, as I remember, Hyde Park was an old neighborhood in decline, much like Fairmont in Fort Worth; it’s probably completely gentrified these days. I was really unsure about going. She had no ulterior motive, and it never occurred to me that she did, but I was still nervous, because, I suppose, one might say I was still working out all this man-woman stuff. Plus, I’ve never been one to, I don’t know, make friends at the drop of a hat the way some folks do.

So I went, and it is one of my fondest memories, not just of Austin, but of my whole life. She showed me around her house, and I remember a portrait of Hank Williams that she had painted. Based on a common photo of him that you would probably recognize, it was kind of stylized, with purple as a predominant color. I don’t know if it was her intention, but it brought to mind that line from ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’: ‘The silence of a falling star lights up a purple sky.’ I also seem to remember a painting of sunflowers, or maybe it was big white daisies. Or maybe I’m misremembering one painting as two different ones.

And her records. I remember one wall in a room that was solid LPs from floor to ceiling, mostly old-time music. Her husband (boyfriend or partner or whatever at that time, and who wasn’t present that morning) played old-time banjo, uilleann pipes, and fiddle.

So, the upshot of it was that we sat around and listened to records and talked music. Recently, at Doc’s Records (in Fort Worth), I came across one of those records that we listened to that day – Traditional Music For Banjo, Fiddle, and Bagpipes’ by Franklin George. I’d only seen it that one time, but I knew it as soon as I pulled it out of the bin, and, of course, I bought it; I would’ve snapped it up at twice or three times what they were asking.

A few years back, probably six or seven, I was thinking of making a trip to Austin, and I had it in mind to look her up while I was there. So I googled her, trying to find out if she was still in the area, and almost the first thing I found was a picture of her gravestone. I searched a bit more to try and make sure it was her. I didn’t find any specifics, but apparently she was stricken by something that was quick and bad, and she was gone in 1986. I will freely admit that I cried.

Truth is, I probably had somewhat of a crush on her. She was one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever known with a voice to match. Things happen as they happen, but one sometimes can’t help wondering how things might have been different.

That’s the end of the original remembrance.

I also remember hearing her and Dave play at a Friends of Traditional Music meetings at the Split Rail and at least one festival in Zilker Park. I remember showing her the new fiddle I had bought to take with me on my first tour in Korea in ’76, so I wouldn’t have to take my nicer one, neither of which I have now. I remember the fiddle lessons and trying to learn ‘Soldier’s Joy’ and ‘Flowers of Edinburg’.

I remember my Mom and Dad coming to visit from Fort Worth, and I took them to see her and Dave and, I think, her sister (on flute) play at a small cafe or bar. I just don’t remember exactly now, but it was someplace where one could have a Guinness. They called themselves something with “mule” in the name, I think. Or maybe the name of the establishment had “mule” in the name.

So, there it is, such as it is. It’s not much, but I sincerely hope that you find some value in it. Your Mom was a special person, and looking back, I think how nice it would have been to know her better or to know her still today, especially now that I have more music under my belt, so to speak..

I’m sure there are lots of other memories bubbling around in my mind, but what I remember most of all is how pretty she seemed to me at that time and how nice she was.

Memories are such slippery things, but I can almost remember standing in the hallway in Maggie’s house that day when she showed me this painting.”

– Clark Weddle

Back in 2011, around the time that I really started honoring my mother’s death day in earnest, I was thumbing through her scrapbooks and noticed a guy that seemed familiar to me. I’d recently been at a caucusing event for the upcoming election at the time, and had seen this person who just really caught my attention – Daniel Llanes, who is a local activist, dancer, mystic, and musician here in Austin. I reached out to him, and it turns out, he was indeed the one in the photographs. We’ve stayed in touch over the years, and on one Day of the Dead, he invited me to his house to sing and dance in traditional Aztec ceremony to honor our beloved dead with he and his daughter. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and was so grateful for his kind welcome, and to see the portrait my mother painted of him all those years ago in person.


A portrait of Daniel Llanes – by Maggie Polacheck

During the quarantine, I found myself wondering how he was doing, as I’ve been worrying about all our precious community elders experiencing life during this pandemic. I reached out again the other day, and we had a wonderful long conversation about music and magic. Later that day, he sent me this letter (I’ve shared a portion of it here, with his permission):

Hi Angel,

Thank you for reaching out and talking with me today.  So unexpected and surprisingly nurturing.  Not only because of the isolation we are experiencing these days, but because it is you.  You who I never see and has such a connection with my personal and intimate history. 

Being an artist in America is unique and there are very, very few people who actually are that.  Your mom and I became such cheerleaders for  each other the moment we met.  She immediately appreciated and matched my passion for the language and lifestyle of art.  I can remember the first time we looked into each others eyes, brightness, wonder, enthusiasm – like, “ooh, what’s this about?”

Beside talking and feeling such commonality with you today, after our talk I actually missed you, and you have been in my thoughts all day. Missed you because you are part of one of the people who I felt so in sync with in so many ways, almost like missing her.  She painted my portrait for god’s sake. 

I knew your mom in her freedom and we had a lot of great times, fun public events and deep personal moments.  That was one phase of our lives.  Once she was married we didn’t see each other for a while, then I got to know your dad, and that started another era.  And now you reach out.  And of course, who you have become is even more fascinating now than when we first met, you and I.

Fascinating about bloodlines.  We are the current versions of our bloodlines.  When my grandmother died (raised by her) about a week later I started recognizing her in my gestures, mannerisms , speech patterns, laugh, and I noticed, even now, my yawn sounded like my grandfather’s yawn.  Double fascinating…So even though they are now invisible, they are visibly embodied in me.

These days I’m of the opinion that all is happening as it needs to, and timing is everything.  Last time you reached out, I felt that bloodline energy in you, almost a tease, too brief.  I’ve thought of you over time and did invite you to sing and such, but that didn’t happen, and I did not want to be pushy or presumptuous.  So thank you again for reaching our and sharing your light with me once again. 

I see you in her, I see her in you. 

Thank you for sharing your mom’s commemorance and making me aware of it.  I read what you wrote, beautiful. I loved the pictures.  You, like her have a very unique look, and feel.  And yes to all that you touched on.  And the passing of life, the days and nights with sun, moon and stars ever pulsing as we move towards perfecting our union with the Creator.  That’s what art, the spiritual pursuit, is to me.

You are a unique person, and like her, one of those so few and far between.  I am hopeful that we can get to interact and share some time and space going forward. 
 
–Daniel

We talked the other day about this story I remember my dad telling me, about the time Daniel lost his precious vintage Martin tenor guitar, his main songwriting instrument, in the trunk of a hippie couple’s car he’d hitched a ride with from San Antonio. They dropped him off on the Drag, and drove away before he realized that he hadn’t gotten his guitar from them. There was no easy way to find those folks again (no mobile phones or social media!), and Daniel was totally distraught. He went to the garage apartment behind the duplex at 4302 Avenue G where he was living with my mom and their friend Lenore (or with my dad – everyone’s memories are a bit fuzzy on certain aspects of this story, it being over four decades ago now…) They all sat down and problem solved about how he would conduct a search for it, but this was long before internet, of course – so they were talking about flyers and knocking on doors. My mom then sat down at their kitchenette table and pulled out her Albano Waite (Pamela Colman Smith) deck – (the same deck that I would later inherit at age 11, sparking my path towards becoming a tarot reader!), and did a tarot reading for the situation using the standard (for the time) cross layout. The only card my dad remembers is the outcome, which was the Star (non-inverted). From this, my mother concluded that Daniel would recover the guitar, which relieved his mind greatly, and as it happened, he did get it back some weeks of effort later. My dad also cast an I Ching oracle at the time, which he concluded was saying the same thing as the cards. It’s funny, but Daniel didn’t remember anything about the readings my parents did, as he was probably too upset at the time – but a few weeks later, somebody called the house, and miracle of miracles – the precious Martin guitar was returned!

I’ve been thinking a lot about the voluptuous solitude of The Star card – and how even in the midst of this craving for connection, I’ve been finding so much solace in the poetic quietude of this alone time. The Star is all about the place we arrive at when everything else is stripped away, and all we have is ourselves. This card reminds us to have faith in who we really are, and to let our strange magic and beautiful light shine. There is a deep peace that can be accessed by learning to be truly present one’s self – and in knowing who you are and being entirely comfortable with that person. The Star is a powerful emblem and guide for artists, weirdos, and all non-conformists – people who have learned to let their freak flags fly! It’s a lot easier to do when we remember that we are all made of stardust, I’ve found.

Counting The Stars At Night
(별 헤는 밤, 윤동주)

Up where the seasons pass,
the sky is filled with autumn.
In this untroubled quietude
I could almost count these autumn-couched stars.

But why I cannot now enumerate
those one or two stars in my breast
is because the dawn is breaking soon,
and I have tomorrow night in store,
and because my youth is not yet done.

Memory for one star,
love for another star,
sorrow for another star,
longing for another star,
poetry for another star,
and oh! Mother, for another star.

Mother! I try to call each star by some such evocative word,
names of school children with whom I shared desks,
names of native girls like Pai, Kyunh, Ok,
names of maidens who have already become mothers,
names of neighbors who lived in poverty,
names of birds and beasts
like pigeon, puppy, rabbit, donkey, deer,
and names of poets
like Francis Jammes and Reiner Maria Rilke.

They are as far away
and intangible as the stars.

Mother!
You too are in the distant land of the Manchus.

Because I have a secret yearning,
seated on this star-showered bank,
I have written my name thereon
and covered it with earth.
In truth, it is because the insects chirp
all night to grieve over my bashful name.

But spring shall come to my stars after winter’s delay,
greening the turf over the graves,
so this bank that buries my name
shall proudly wear the grass again.

Dongju Yun

Vernon Reed was another one of my mom’s friends who made a profound impact on her life. My mother loved Vernon’s amazing house with his golden mantle and yellow boat suspended mid-air, and his trippy bathroom with the cocoons of plastic sheeting filled with fairy lights. I always heard stories about what a character he was from my Aunt Ruthie, who remembers him as being one of the most creative and fascinating people they’d ever met – a true one of a kind star!

He and my mom both made silver jewelry (which inspired me to become a silversmith, too), and years ago, Aunt Ruth gave me this pendant he’d made for my mom – a star and crescent moon, one of my most sacred symbols) inlaid with garnets, which was her birthstone – and is mine, too. It’s probably my most treasured possession, along with her fiddle. I wore it almost every day for many years, until the finding got worn out – I need to get it repaired, so I can safely wear it again without fear of losing it.

Vernon and I have emailed back and forth too, over the years. I pray that when it’s safe to, we can get together, and finally meet in person – and that I can see some of the paintings he has that my mother gave him. It’s something to look forward to. I see a kinship in my mom’s friends – they are my kind of people, too. In reaching out to them, and making connection, I’ve found some likeminded kindred spirits – artists, iconoclasts, poets, and wild-eyed dreamers. Through knowing each other, we get to repair a piece of the puzzle that got lost when she left this earth. We can re-form the constellation of spirits that still inhabit this plane of existence, connecting via the spirit of one who is no longer in her body. Her art, her photographs, her stories are the threads that join us together, the ways we keep from getting lost in the dark morass of time and forgetfulness. This is the alchemy of healing, of honoring that art and writing provide for us. I am so grateful for it, and for them – for these bright stars lighting up the horizons of my life, calling to me over great distances, constantly falling, illuminating, dying, shining – for eternity. In our lifetimes, and beyond.

“I think of you often. Especially in the evenings, when I am on the balcony and it’s too dark to write or to do anything but wait for the stars. A time I love. One feels half disembodied, sitting like a shadow at the door of one’s being while the dark tide rises. Then comes the moon, marvelously serene, and small stars, very merry for some reason of their own. It is so easy to forget, in a worldly life, to attend to these miracles.”

– Katherine Mansfield


Artwork by ØJERUM

(the spirit likes to dress up)

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body’s world,
instinct

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
sweetness
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is –

so it enters us –
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.

– Mary Oliver

If you’d like to read more about this journey
of grieving, honoring, and remembering my mother,
here is an archive of my writings about her:

DOUBLE ETERNITY
MY ANGELIC INHERITANCE / THE HOLOGRAPHIC WILL
38 ON AUGUST THE 8TH
30 YEARS – SEIZURES
888 – HONEY BABE, I’M BOUND TO RIDE – DON’T YOU WANNA GO?
WILD BLUE YONDER
NO ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THE BLUES
FAMILY VACATION – HANK WILLIAMS’ GRAVE
STAR-CROSSED TROUBADOURS
Foxes in the Rain
Triumvirate Lemniscate
Gustav + Mama – August 8th

8 comments

Oh my I love these memories that were shared with you. They brightened my day. <3

by Christine on August 8, 2020 at 11:25 pm. Reply #

Angel, it is so generous of you to share your thoughts about your mother and about the way that relationships continue after a person dies. The remembrances of her friends feel particularly poignant right now. We’ve all been suffering the loss of the part of ourselves that we sense through how we are witnessed by our community…but that person continues to exist even if we die or are isolated from that community. Much love to you. -Erin

by Erin Orr on August 9, 2020 at 12:13 am. Reply #

thanks for sharing this. maggie literally changed my life and i am so glad to know that you embody so much of what made her wonderful.

by vernon on August 9, 2020 at 1:53 am. Reply #

Your Mom’s friends seem so interesting. It’s nice you were able to connect with them and that they welcomed you. And it must be so nice to have those scrapbooks. It’s wild sometimes when you discover new things about your parents from other people or through their writings, even that she loved her baths like you. Thank you for writing and for all that you do.

by Myrna Enamorado on August 9, 2020 at 2:56 am. Reply #

What a lovely read. You are such an incredible and insightful being. It is my pleasure to know you. I have been friends with Ruth for a really long time. (’78-’79?) When I met you, you were just a wee one. I knew your mom and dad because I was neighbors and friends with Ruth. I first remember her when Ruth showed me these light “boxes” that your mom built. It had doors with pictures glued all over it, a collage. I remember thinking it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen. I too lost a parent at an early age. My dad passed when I was 15 years old. It’s funny, when you are young and you think about a horrible event that might occur, you don’t ever think beyond that. For example, if the boogie man were to break in. That is the climax. As a child, you don’t not think beyond that. It’s like that is the end of the world. I remember as a youth of eight or nine, I would cry at night sometimes because my daddy had to die one day. Looking back, what a crazy thing to think about. Premonition perhaps? He and I had a special bond. I would reassure myself by thinking about my mother and her father who was still living and count the number of years I was surely guaranteed to have with my dad. That tragedy was the worst that I could imagine. (He had after all, hung the moon.). I share this to tell you that I still miss him. Most of the people in my life never even met him. This year on “the date”, February 16th, I realized he has been gone for 45 years. I cried. As long as I walk the earth, I will miss him. When he left, on that first day, I truly thought there was no “after this”. My heart was broken beyond any heartbreak I have ever experienced before or since. Only with the birth of my children did I come to realize a heartbreak beyond that was possible. This past week on of Ri’s former boyfriends died. After several days of many FB posts did we come to realize that this vibrant, kind, creative 28 year old had taken his own life. Did the virus play a part? The isolation? My heart breaks for his mother and his siblings. Further, I learned that a friend of mine from my Austin days was standing over her son’s hospital bed who had been involved in a motorcycle accident being t-boned by a car. I have spent more than a few days with dampened eyes this week. My take away is that life is fleeting and precious and fragile. Everything can change in a moment, in the blink of an eye. It is of the utmost importance that we appreciate it and the people we have the privilege of loving and being loved by. Your mother was one of the most unique people I have ever met. I think it is safe to say she would not only adore the person you have become, but admire you as I do. Wherever she is now, she is loving you and bragging to her fellow beings, “See that one right there? I made that.” Sending love your way.

by Lynn on August 9, 2020 at 5:41 am. Reply #

So many angles to discover even when we think we’ve surveyed every detail already. The infinite of the universe is the infinite in your mother, in the mother your mother is to you, in the daughter you are to your mother, in your mother to us, and you, the bright vast infinite of every divine piece of you, for you, to us. Thank you so much for allowing us to go on this journey with you. Much love, always.

by teabiotique on August 9, 2020 at 10:05 pm. Reply #

Luffly and tough and tender and tumbly. I am beaming toward yourself.

by Whittier on August 10, 2020 at 7:57 pm. Reply #

Angel,
Once again, I am awestruck at your eloquence and profound insights. You simply MUST publish a book of these writings about your mother. You owe it to the world and all those going through the grieving process.
The stories about your momma are so lovely and moving.
I will be the first one to buy your book. Please please please do it!!!

by Karimomma on August 12, 2020 at 5:18 pm. Reply #

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